Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism, and Damage to the Immune System—A Review

Authors


Department of Pathology, Veterans Administration Medical Center, and the University of Iowa, Iowa City, LA 52246

Abstract

Chronic alcohol abuse exacts a major social and medical toll in the United States and other Western countries. One of the least appreciated medical complications of alcohol abuse is altered immune regulation leading to immunodeficiency and autoimmunity. The consequences of the immunodeficiency include increased susceptibility to bacterial pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. In addition, the chronic alcoholic often has circulating autoantibodies, and recent investigations indicate that the most destructive complications of alcoholism, such as liver disease and liver failure, may have a component of autoimmunity. Current research on altered cytokine balance produced by alcohol is leading to new insights on the regulation of the immune system in the chronic alcoholic. There is also recent development of exciting new techniques designed to improve or restore immune function by manipulation of cytokine balance. Although much remains to be learned, both in the abnormalities produced by alcohol and in the techniques to reverse those abnormalities, current progress reflects a rapidly improving understanding of the basic immune disorders of the alcoholic.

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